Tick tock, tick tock. We are still waiting for the 2009 clarets I tasted in April. It seems like years ago. Chateau owners and directors are still deliberating, still trying to pick a price, trying to add one more card to the house of cards without knocking it down. When you’ve 200,000 bottles to sell then an extra euro per bottle will pay for the tractor, the holiday, whatever. It’s a serious business and, much as the word avarice might just float around in the skyscape of the mind, why should any one of them sell ten pound notes for a fiver? Why let the speculators profit on something that you’ve MADE (albeit with some help from the Man upstairs)?
An interesting off stage noise is that the euro is moving around. Or the pound, or both. The price of your Ch. Giscours, if you’re buying in sterling, is subject to change as the sterling/euro rate moves around. With a few exceptions, wine merchants are mostly thick: there is still a very strong independently wealthy crowd in the trade and the rest of us, well, we just like to enjoy our day at work – either too thick or just disinclined to the career in finance that so many of our schoolfriends followed. If there is a hint of bitterness here it’s because I was, and am, both. My point is that right now, a decent merchant needs not only someone good to buy their wine, to do the deals, but someone equally good to buy their euros. Margins on en-primeur wines can be just 10% – a small deviation in the price of the currency that one is paying in can have a substantial impact. What interests me, though, is not currency fluctuations but value, is what a bottle or a case is worth.
After fourteen years of doing this wine thing I am still improving as a taster, I am still learning. I’m still rubbish at tasting blind (I mean the guess the vintage/appellation/domaine, etc trick) but pretty good, more than competent, even at the head of the field (I think) at tasting and evaluating young wines and, what I’ve always been good at, what was the first thing I worked out is this: putting a price on a wine. Put anything in front of me: cru classe claret, top end white Burgundy, branded Australian shiraz, and I can tell you what it’s worth, what a bottle on the table should cost you.
2009 Ch. Batailley, Pauillac has been released at £264.00 per case in bond. It has sold exceptionally well, largely because it’s worth it. Pay the duty and the VAT when it arrives, store it in your own cellar and, in ten years time when it’s drinking you’re looking at a cracking bottle of claret at less than thirty quid a bottle. Store it professionally and you’re still looking at circa forty quid a bottle. For me it’s a no brainer and, as it represents quality, as it is genuinely worth the price, it will probably pay for its storage charges and the cost of the cash even if you stored it in bond for ten years then chose to sell.
At the top end of Pauillac quality is Ch. Latour, even if Lafite is the current cash cow. Unless you have a particularly good relationship with your merchant this may well set you back close to ten grand a case, so not far shy of a grand a bottle if you’re going to pay the taxman and drink it. Despite this being more money than my car (German, convertible, very fast) is worth, it will sell out, and sell out fast, though not for the same reason. I would suggest that the vast majority of 2009 Latour buyers will be buying with something other than drinking it in mind. Most will be buying on the basis that they believe that its value will rise, and that they will make a turn. The irony here, and the bit that upsets me, is that 2009 Latour IS worth a grand a bottle. I have tasted this wine once and it knocked me over. It got me weepy. It is/was vinous perfection: the example of what man and God can do together. It grows out of the ground – it’s that simple – but the experience, the beauty, the million-petalled flower of its complexity is vinous poetry. An unrepeatable experience.
Resisting the temptation to get all religious (there are some pretty good deadly sins here: greed, envy and gluttony all seem to ring) we’ll get back to the wine. 2009 Batailley is worth it at £30 a bottle. 2009 Latour the same at £1000 a bottle. And there are others that are worth it either because of (a) the intrinsic value of the bottle’s contents or (b) someone else is going to buy it from you for more money. But there are a lot of wines in between that can do neither but will try to do both, or make the pitch that can do both.
A Euro is worth what you can buy with it: a pack of fags, a beer, some eggs. It’s also worth what someone will pay you for it: 85p, or something like that, depending on the day and the time of day. I find the packet of fags/beer/eggs option easier.